A former superintendent who now leads six charter schools told Shelby County Schools he will close both of his network’s high schools this summer.
Du Bois High School of Arts and Technology and Du Bois High School of Leadership and Public Policy were already in danger of losing their charters because of poor academic performance. The charter network is led by former mayor and Memphis City Schools superintendent Willie Herenton.
In a letter to parents, Herenton said the decision was based on a shortage of “highly qualified” teachers. The letter was provided to Chalkbeat by Lemichael Wilson, who has three sons enrolled in the charter network.
“The market for securing the caliber of high school educators that meet these qualifications is very competitive and has made it increasingly challenging for us to compete as we would like,” the letter said, referring to meeting requirements such as proper certification for classes students need to graduate.
Wilson described the rate of teacher turnover at the arts and technology school as “ridiculous.” He recalled that in one year, his son had multiple teachers for a single class.
“I chose Du Bois because of the reputation of Dr. Herenton being with Memphis City Schools as superintendent and thought that the school would have an educational focus that was stronger than what it was — that the governance of the school would be better than what it was, and the administration would be better than what it was,” he said.
The decision affects a total of 287 students enrolled at both schools as of Feb. 1, according to Shelby County Schools data. That’s down from 322 students enrolled last year.
The high schools in Whitehaven and Southeast Memphis opened in 2013 and 2014 and are two of six in Herenton’s charter network. All but one of them are in danger of being shut down by the state next year because they rank in the bottom 5 percent of schools with low student test performance in Tennessee.
The arts and technology high school was also one of seven charters under Shelby County Schools that are in danger of closing if they don’t improve within two years, based on the district’s own evaluation. Three of those seven are in Herenton’s network.
Reached by phone, Herenton referred all requests for comment to Shelby County Schools, though the district did not play a role in closing the school this year.
A Shelby County Schools spokeswoman said the district would work with the charter network “to ensure that families are informed of their options” for next school year.
A request for comment from the charter network’s board chairman, Ernest Strickland, was not immediately returned.
The full letter is below: